By Matters India Reporter
New Delhi: The head of the Catholic Church in India on July 27 expressed shock at the National Commission for Women’s demand for a ban on the Christian practice of confession.
“This demand by the commission betrays a total lack of understanding of the nature, meaning, sanctity and importance of this Sacrament for our people; and also an ignorance of the strict laws of the Church to prevent any abuse,” Cardinal Oswald Gracias, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, said in a press release.
The 73-year-old prelate, one of the eight cardinal advisers of Pope Francis, said such a ban will directly infringe on “our freedom of religion guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.”
According to him, millions of people from all over the world, over the centuries, have testified to the spiritual benefit of this Sacrament and to the grace, pardon and peace they have experienced as a result of receiving this Sacrament. “I am confident the government will totally ignore this absurd demand from the commission,” he added.
The cardinal was reacting to commission chairperson Rekha Sharma’s recommendation to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and some of his cabinet colleagues to take steps to abolish the practice of confession in Christian Churches.
The commission, a statutory body concerned with advising the Indian government on policy matters affecting women, reportedly recommended confession’s abolition alleging that the practice could lead to blackmailing of women.
Sharma on July 26 said priests pressured women into telling their secrets. “We have one such case in front of us, there must be many more such cases and what we have right now is just a tip of the iceberg,” she said.
The recommendations come in the backdrop of a rape case against four priests of Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church accused of sexually exploiting a married woman belonging to their church.
The issue came to the fore after the victim’s husband wrote to the Church, alleging that the priests blackmailed and abused his wife, a school teacher.
The commission constituted an inquiry committee to look into alleged sexual assaults against women in churches.
Cardinal Gracias says the commission should pay attention to “very many issues concerning women” such as empowerment of women, their capacity building, prevention of domestic violence and organizing rescue systems, instead of dabbling in religious matters about which it understands nothing.
“The Church wishes to promote even more the advancement of women in society and is ready to collaborate with the National Commission for Women for this, as it does with other agencies,” Cardinal Gracias vouches.
Earlier, on July 26, Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council lambasted the commission’s demand.
The media reports about the commission’s recommendation have shocked not only Christians but all those who stand for religious freedom, the bishops’ press release said.
The Kerala bishops saw some hidden political agenda behind the recommendation.